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Evil bosses are put on notice by ‘Prada’

Film may give assistants the power they need to turn the tables. By Paige Ferrari

They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes.  But, as anyone who has worked in magazines knows, there is one other inevitability: assistantship.  Some call it dues-paying, others call it drudgery, but from Vogue on down to Cat Fancy, every newcomer hoping to grab that brass ring starts from the bottom, swallows a little pride, and occasionally does the devil’s work. 

For most assistants the experience isn’t soul-searing. Sure, there may be some gratuitous photocopying, late nights removing staples with your bare hands, or the odd request to curb the boss’s Toy Schnoodle. But for a miserable few, like Ann Hathaway’s aspiring journalist in “The Devil Wears Prada” things can be much worse. 

In the movie, working for Meryl’s Streep’s frosty editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly, is akin to being gnawed at by an impeccably groomed wild dog, whilst running errands for said dog.  It’s painful, humiliating, and leaves the kind of psychological scars that only a tell-all book deal and major motion picture can begin to heal.   

“The Devil Wears Prada” may be a satire on the elite world of fashion magazines, but the story, ripped from the experiences of former Anna Wintour assistant, Lauren Weisberg, is universal.  No matter your profession, everyone has had a boss who made weekdays miserable and who filled weekends with impending dread. Everyone, even the most passive and good-hearted among us, has had that one boss whom they wouldn’t actually set on fire, but may not put out right away. 

Most of us couldn’t drum up enough interest to charge admission for a view of our boss’s dark soul, so “The Devil Wears Prada” let us live out this fantasy. This tale of the dragon lady and the fresh faced underdog is not only wicked fun, it’s cathartic, and with real implications for future boss-assistant relations.  Joy squelching  bosses with reputations to uphold and their opportunist assistants take note: the power balance in your office is about to shift towards the little guy.

Someone knows your all your secrets, bossEven the kindest of bosses with the most loyal assistant knows that their relationship is actually built on a Cold War-esque bargain of mutually assured destruction. Assistants like the movie’s Andy Sachs are usually ambitious go-getters, eager to please. As such, a good assistant often knows her boss’s personal life better than the boss herself. In every industry, assistants know the last time you sent your wife flowers (or sent someone else flowers, you cad), how you take your coffee, what you did last summer, and that you think it’s clever to expense happy hour margaritas as business lunches with “Jose C.”

They’re like your garbage man, therapist, and the NSA rolled up into one and able to see your Google search history.  With access to all this information, even the most beloved boss lives with the knowledge that one disgruntled assistant, especially one offered a six-figure book deal, has the potential to become a bigger monster than any devil with a corner office.  

Some writers have speculated that the popularity of the film, combined with the surge of tell-all books and dirt-spilling blogs, will strike fear into executive lunchrooms everywhere. This is possible. Yes, for a few days there may actually be some hard candy in the dish, or a flock of  VIPs putting in face time with their dry-cleaners. 

Overall, though, the biggest change in boss-assistant relations will come from the assistant side, as yet another Rhodes Scholar  buying her boss’ pantyhose has what Oprah refers to as an “a-ha moment” and wonders “couldn’t I just write a book about this?” “The Devil Wears Prada” may stick it to the man this summer, but author Lauren Weisberg’s enduring  gift to the world will be a generation of assistants wise to the power of the squeal.

A whole new world for assistantsIf the post “Devil Wears Prada” boss is sheepish and fearful, making stiff gestures at congeniality and pretending to remember your first name, the “Devil Wears Prada” new brand of mega-assistant is fearless, and hyper aware of even the slightest mistreatment. This newly empowered segment of the workforce hears cash registers cha-ching and agents salivating with every crack of the whip. They’ll ask for more, more, more, because being mistreated feels pretty good when you know how well it sells.

It should be said that most bosses treat their assistants as apprentices, fairly and with a great deal of  respect. In most cases there is no reason to tell-all on anyone for anything, and no interest from the general population even if you wanted to.  Most assistants, including myself at one time — This is on the record, yes?  Being an assistant? The most rewarding experience of my life, truly — understand that character building is different from soul-crushing. It’s with a good can-do spirit that they do the grunt work and wait their turn to be promoted to the top of the heap.

Bosses should beware the crafty few, however, for they will bring the revolution upon you with “Devil Wears Prada” as their battle cry. This revolution may not be televised, but it will no doubt be featured on 

Meglomaniacal assistants and their agents should also beware:  you can only stick it to the man so long before you become the man. Once the enlisted men overthrow their officer, it’s only a matter of time before more underlings come to overthrow them. 

Sure, you may have your book deal.  But that guy in the mailroom?  The guy you call “hey you?”  Well, he has a blog that gets 10,000 hits a day and, frankly, he doesn’t like your attitude.